Age of big data, metaverse, groundbreaking innovation in travel
Digitization in India, and for that matter all over the world, today is paving a path towards unprecedented growth in travel, tourism and aviation. More recently, payment digitization has further aided this growth. The online travel market is now a one-stop shop to plan and purchase travel solutions across multiple brands, channels and platforms, easing the process for the consumer. The 5G roll out will further give fillip to the sector.
Domestic tourism is within touching distance of pre-pandemic levels. Shopping and booking data date are showing strong interest for both outbound and inbound into 2023. Online travel industry revenue is anticipated to reach US$ 18.91 billion by 2023. Revenue is anticipated to increase by 13.47% per year from 2023 to 2027, resulting in a market volume of US$ 31.35 billion by 2027. With a predicted market volume of $8.33 billion in 2023, Package Holidays holds the largest market share. At the same time, the global travel technology market is expected to grow by US$ 3.70 billion.
According to Mordor Intelligence recent report, online travel gross bookings will grow in double digits and outpace the overall travel market. Indian travel firms have reportedly seen a 25-30 per cent increase in bookings both, for air travel and accommodations for the Christmas and the New Year holidays. The India OTA market is expanding at a rapid pace, potentially one of the biggest beneficiaries. Now traditional corporates are also looking to automate their travel processes. Rise in M&A, partnerships, and strategic alliances is dramatically boosting the development of the travel services market in India.
Post-pandemic and further into recovery, technology adoption is accelerating across the travel ecosystem. Travel agents who reduced headcount during the pandemic are looking at automating repetitive tasks in order to meet the post-pandemic surge in demand, allowing them to increase productivity without onboarding new staff.
Sandeep Dwivedi, COO, InterGlobe Technology Quotient, says, “Pandemic has transformed and moved the entire industry gamut to the technology tipping point towards new normalcy. To stay competitive in this new business and economic environment requires new strategies and practices, which most of the travel agencies realised technology’s strategic importance as a critical component of the business, and not just a source of cost efficiency. The pandemic resulted in a rapid rise of technology uptake across the globe that led to a significant shift in the skillset required by travel selling professionals adopting new approach to enhance the business prospects.”
According to Brett Thorstad, Vice President, Sabre Travel Solutions, Agency Sales, Asia Pacific, “We recently carried out a survey of the corporate travel space, and we found that 4/5th of corporate travel agents has adopted new technological solutions to manage pandemic-related risk over the past two years. And, of those who haven’t, 42% plan to do so within the next two years. The most popular solutions are travel risk management tools, automation products and virtual payment tools. This is a picture of advanced technological adoption that we are seeing across leisure travel too.
Hailing Digi Yatra as a landmark initiative by the Government, Rakesh Bansal, CEO, Amadeus India, says, “We have seen a fast adoption of technology across industries, especially travel and aviation. A commendable step in that direction was Digi Yatra, an initiative headed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to make air traveller or passenger journeys hassle-free, seamless and health-risk-free,”
EaseMyTrip Co-founder, Rikant Pittie, insists that the travel and tourism industry would have to accept that the pandemic was responsible for the push to adopt the technology. He says, “In the age of Industry 4.0, increasing digital technology is influencing how people travel and how tourism-related companies operate. A recent study by Google found that 74% of vacationers use the web to organise their itineraries. As more information is consumed on mobile devices, the travel and tourism sector has prioritised the development of travel apps to improve the traveler’s experience. According to a recent travel study, 85% of consumers choose travel apps for holiday vacation planning.”
The pandemic brought in new norms of physical distancing and travel bans. The approach has shifted from high touch to high tech. “Paired with the popularity of AI, AR and VR, the tourism and hospitality industry have been experimenting with ways in which they can create a more immersive experience for the travelers. Customers are looking for hyper-personalization in everything, then why should their trip packages be left out? We’ve heard airlines are looking to implement biometrics capabilities in their everyday use. Investment in airline technology will also hike up in an effort to modernize operations to avoid a system failure like Southwest Airlines did in December. Another area that has gained significant traction since the pandemic is duty of care,” says, Anish Khadiya, Director, Itilite.
According to Shashikiran Parameshwaran, Global Front office Lead T&E, ABB, “Online travel is on the rise with corporates moving towards self-booking tools aided by technology developments which have shifted the preference to booking online rather than working with a travel agency.”
The future is here, now. It is an incredibly exciting time for the industry. Travel is set to see significant changes in 2023, with a FinTech revolution, digital ID, digital passports, the rising metaverse, biometrics, cloud and open platforms, new remote working and meeting tools & solutions that address the new hybrid or ‘work from roam’ trend are combining to shift the landscape rapidly. Biometric payments – via the likes of ApplePay and GooglePay – are now mainstream for both retail and travel payments. Bansal says that airports and travel operators will offer a completely contactless and convenient payment experience for passengers with the use of biometrics, at all points of the journey, suppliers and services.
“Moreover, at the same time, NDC (New Distribution Capability) is playing a significant role, taking digital travel retailing to a whole new level. Amadeus is pioneering several technological breakthroughs on NDC and is fully committed to innovation and cutting-edge technology to meet the industry’s needs for better flexibility, agility, and servicing. We are committed towards efficient end to end integration,” Bansal adds.
Pittie says, “We anticipate a growth in innovations like voice and face recognition, which will both streamline the identification process and increase security. In addition, AI & ML is anticipated to offer a variety of solutions, including voice search, ticket booking, chatbots, etc. Metaverse will introduce an incredibly new face to the industry, which we are eager to see.”
According to Dwivedi, while technology is driving most travel agencies’ operations, there is a need to get more cohesive with its usage. “Modern retailing driven by technology makes it possible to ensure a fast, simple and reliable experience for the customers. It will not only benefit the buyers, but sellers too as when people have an abundance of choice, they are likely to spend more. In addition, post-booking solutions are need of the hour from void, refund, reissuance to revalidation -a desired functionality by travel booking users.”
Furthermore, he says that the NDC content has proven to be revolutionary in the travel industry as well and has changed the way travel content is presented to the travellers. “The plugin help users to deliver the best possible experience for travellers as it gives the agencies access to a vast pool of NDC content,” he adds.
Parameshwaran points that the suppliers are increasingly moving towards end-to-end digital platforms in order to reach out to a wider user base.
Further adding on the emerging trends, Khadiya says, “Leading the race will definitely be AI and ML and related applications that are set to become an integral part to create lasting travel experiences. The rise of voice search, an AI derivative, is increasingly being employed by travelers for a variety of services including discovering best deals on hotels, booking flight tickets as well as leisure activities. The approach is now touch to tech, replacing traditional services with touchless substitutes. We can also see the increased use of AR and VR in the space of travel technology. Companies are focused on magnifying their value propositions by implementing VR technologies.”
Amadeus’ Bansal says, “We are well on our way to running all our applications in the public cloud, which will enable a more collaborative approach to development with our customers. We do expect pathbreaking technology as a result. We are also actively partnering with other technology players like Microsoft to integrate our travel technology into their ecosystem.”
Dwivedi says, “The quest to do better and the service delivery fulfilment is at the core of ITQ irrespective of the times. We are providing an enhanced platform of travel booking and management experience named Travelport+ a modern way of retailing travel. The platform is more reliable and features Smartpoint Cloud, having NDC capability to access wide range of content through JSON API.
As part of its new innovation in technology Itilite is looking at integrating with NDC to enhance the booking experience of its customers. They are also planning to design an NGS interface to provide more consistent comparisons across fare types. Taking its carbon footprint tracking capability one step further, the company is planning on building a system wherein one is able to not only track his carbon emissions but also get corrective measures ideas from the Itilite platform.
“We are always looking for innovative solutions that will resonate across the entire business travel ecosystem. By upgrading our Next Generation Storefront, ITILITE users will benefit from increased transparency, easier understanding, and a better booking experience,” Khadiya adds further.
Thorstad says that at Sabre, they are focused on their strategic vision to create a new marketplace for personalized travel. “Underpinning this is our own technological transformation, and 2023 is another key year for this as we continue to move to the Google Cloud. By the end of this year, we will have moved all of our Global Distribution System (GDS) functionality off of the mainframe and into the cloud. We also expect to see many of our customers, including airlines, travel management companies (TMCs) and travel agents, accelerate plans to move their IT systems and software platforms to the cloud.”
In 2023, the travel industry will see significant progress made in the area of personalized retailing. Sabre will be enhancing its Beyond NDC and Content Services for Lodging platforms within the Sabre GDS to provide even more choice and depth of travel content available for our extensive network of travel agents, including additional airline and hotel content, NDC offers, and making it easier for agents to bundle content together to create the personalized offers and experiences their travellers want.
With the groundbreaking release of ChatGBT late last year, 2023 may be the year of artificial intelligence (AI). “We launched Sabre Travel AI early in the pandemic and we are continuing to develop new solutions using AI and machine learning (ML), and to infuse this advanced technology into our existing technology,” he informs.
Big Data, Metaverse
Given the changes over the past few years, and the speed at which the travel industry is evolving, it is no longer possible to rely on historic data alone. What is important is that the industry has access to relevant, real-time, or near-real-time data, and, vitally, that it has the ability to use that data to create business growth and to improve the traveller experience.
According to Thorstad, “When we think about Big Data, we’re talking about those huge data sets that it would be impossible for any human to analyse. At Sabre, we process more than 12 billion shopping requests and serve over 1 billion travelers every year. That’s where our advanced AI and ML models come in, to enable increased insights into customer behaviour and preferences in order to create the most compelling offers and experiences for travellers. We’re also using these models to enable our travel partners to enhance operational efficiency, maximize revenue, and optimize pricing.”
Pittie says that big data is responsible for accurate decision-making in tourism. “Typically, they are responsible for consumer demand forecasting, service personalization, travel marketing, and the optimization of pricing strategies. Long-term forecasting is one area in which big data has contributed to the improvement of service facilitation. Numerous travel organisations use this form of analytics to create long-term projections based on historical patterns and trends. In particular, predictive analytics may assist in determining which sorts of trips (study, business, romance, corporate travel, or health and wellness) and which geographic locations will be the most popular over the next season,” he adds.
According to Bansal, the metaverse today is just like the internet of the early 1990s. “It is literally the next level of travelution, it could change everything! In the medium to long-term, the metaverse might drive a re-organization of the internet and social media, disrupting established players and impacting our society in different ways: from the way we socialize to the way we travel, shop, work and collaborate. In the short-term, the metaverse is expected to bring an enriched inspiration with virtual tours.”
“As adoption increases, the metaverse could become a new distribution channel offering physical trips or mixed trips, with more personalized inspiration and search, thanks to real-time information and enriched data. Travel agents could interact with potential travellers in the metaverse in real-time and have direct access to their feedback: like the captain at the helm of a ship, they could take travellers to different cities or destinations in that moment, to inspire them to plan and book the entire real-life trip in the metaverse,” he adds further.
On Metaverse, Dwivedi says, “Metaverse has various business applications helpful to the travel and tourism industry. The travel selling companies will embrace metaverse to promote new destinations to accommodation amenities and holiday themes for distant travellers who can virtually experience the entire compendium from anywhere in the world and make better choices before booking the trip.”
Furthermore, he adds, “New aircraft interiors to on-board services, metaverse can acquaint international travellers about different transit airports and the facilities available there. Moreover, MICE industry can make effective use of it by organising virtual events emulating the physical event and inviting people to attend. The best use case example is, K-pop labels launch virtual fan events and in 2021, Blackpink’s virtual avatars held a fan event in the avatar-based social media network, and 46 million users reportedly attended the event to receive digital autographs from the group. (Source: scmp.com) In 2022, an Indian company boAt announced and organised India’s first ever metaverse K-Pop Concert called FloAtverse.
According to Khadiya, “The metaverse is opening up limitless possibilities as it advances into the next wave of web technology. The market is still very immature but eventually when Metaverse and travel go hand in hand, it will be a new era for the industry. The area where we see metaverse making its maximum impact is streamlining the booking experience of travelers by offering useful information that’s never been offered before like virtual reality tours of hotel grounds to give them a feel of the place even before they visit it. It can generate breakthrough value for stakeholders and the business—including new revenue streams. We’re just beginning, but the Metaverse will revolutionize every aspect of every business, including customer experience, work processes, products and services, and how organizations are run.”
Thorsatad says that the metaverse was certainly a hot topic in 2022, and while some of the buzz around the metaverse may have disappeared, it’s an area that’s still in its infancy and very exciting. “The emergence of the metaverse has the potential to change the way we interact at key points in our travel journey, including the creation of virtual travel experiences, and new opportunities for traveller engagement. Travellers, both leisure and corporate, will be able to enjoy experiences in the virtual world, which offers enormous potential for pre-trip inspiration, and conference participation. Just as with big data, the key is how the travel industry can use the metaverse for conversion, for future growth, and to enhance experiences across each touchpoint of the traveller journey,” he says while concluding.